Banshee Chapter


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Banshee Chapter
"The most convincing piece of otherworldly horror for years."

Found footage. Drug-induced hallucinations. Earnest young heroines who don't know the first thing about getting by in the real world. Ordinarily, these are three good reasons to avoid a film, signalling filmmakers who hope to pass off incoherence as art. Yet somehow, Banshee Chapter takes them all and manages to produce a tale that is unexpectedly gripping and genuinely scary.

Katia Winter is Anne, a young internet journalist investigating the disappearance of her friend, who was last seen experimenting with legal but potentially dangerous hallucinogens. The pay, budget and legal back-up she receives for this are the least believable part of the story. Unable to find out much from recovered video footage, she decides to chase up a writer, Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine) who might have been connected with her friend's drug supply. A thinly veiled take on Hunter S Thompson (even living in a house modeled after Thompson's own), he at first seems like another reason to avoid the film, suggesting all it has to offer is pastiche. This, however, is but one of several tricks it uses to ensnare the unwary viewer. Blackburn is considerably smarter than the script has prepared us for and sees through Anne's stories right away. But whether, as he toys with her, he's really friend or foe, it soon becomes clear that they have much bigger things to worry about.

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Heavily laden with references to MK Ultra and containing enough snippets of their archive footage to deliver grounded chills, the film approaches dabbling with drugs in a nuanced, literate way uncommon these days - more akin to Seventies classics like Performance than the lurid tweeness of Shrooms or Lords Of Salem. Most importantly, it's not the whole foundation of the story. There's a strange radio signal Anne has been trying to trace that harks back to Quatermass era science fiction horror in its alienness, and there are shadows of The Hounds Of Tindalos apparent even before Blackburn raises the subject of Lovecraft. Though this might sound heavy handed, it's delivered so naturally that the film gets away with it, and readers familiar with that writer's work will be amused that Blackburn checks Anne isn't before suggesting she go down to the basement.

It's rare today for a film in any genre to cater, as this does, to an educated audience. Rarer still is a horror film with a central character aged over 60. Levine revels in his role, and the legacy of the Sixties - both the counterculture and the cold war shenanigans of the CIA - adds a darkness of its own to the story. Simple cinematic tricks gain new power because of the real world horrors they evoke. Anne is so clearly out of her depth socially and intellectually that we fear for her even before the real horror arrives, and get a clearer picture of that underlying horror so much of Lovecraft's work derives from - the frailty of human beings in a hostile universe.

Although no single strand within it can be called original, Banshee Chapter blends them flawlessly, delivering the most convincing piece of otherworldly horror for years. Nobody with a taste for this sort of thing should miss it.

Reviewed on: 10 Jan 2014
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Banshee Chapter packshot
An internet journalist discovers that a dangerous hallucinogenic drug has been extracted from the pineal glands of dead humans, and the CIA may be to blame.
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Director: Blair Erickson

Writer: Blair Erickson, Daniel J Healy

Starring: Ted Levine, Katia Winter, Michael McMillian, Jenny Gabrielle, Chad Brumnet

Year: 2013

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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